Alaska Visitors Center, Anchorage, Ak.
This authentic sod-roofed log cabin, on the corner of Fourth Ave. and F Street in downtown Anchorage, houses the Alaska Visitor Center. To me, it symbolizes the very cornerstone of life on the Last Frontier. How appropriate to start this photographic adventure right here.
I’ve seen many fellow travelers steam forward head down, on a goal-oriented mission. I’ve been guilty of that. In most of my travels, though, I’ve been quite fortunate to be able to meet and engage some of the local folks. All kinds of ’em. I was sitting on a bench opposite this fellow in downtown Anchorage and as I am accustomed to doing, I engaged him with eye contact and a smile and started a conversation.
Then, I shut up and listened to the man talk.
I learned that when he was a young boy, he and his dad killed a grizzly together. He related how clear his memory of that was… he aimed for the head, and his dad aimed for the heart… He showed me the bear claw that he had taken from it.
I learned that he spent four years in the Army.
I learned that he had been a fireman for twelve years and had fought forest fires in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, and Idaho.
We split a hot dog.
Onward, Through the Fog!
Grizzly Bear Talisman
The ride from the hotel to the airport shows the support most Alaskans have for the Iditarod, and builds my excitement for the adventure to come.
All my photographic life, I’ve dreamed of mingling with, and capturing, Alaska’s grizzly bears up-close-and-personal. And thanks to my good friend, Art Wolfe, here I am at curbside, heart rate only slightly increased. So far.
Winnie, Bob, Art, Linda, Vaughn, Steve, and Kevin.
Our welcoming committee at the Bristol Bay Sport Fishing Lodge
(Wow, what a nice place!)
The DeHavilland Beaver flight deck in all it’s glory
Aboard an aircraft out of the pages of history and still flying all over Alaska and Canada today is a thrilling way for an old retired pilot to go out to the photo shoot and back every day. Early each morning we would fly out of camp, look around, and find how far upriver the salmon had progressed since the day before. Then we’d find a large pond in the tundra nearby where the Beaver would drop us off for the day.
Um, did anybody hear what time pick-up was? Anyone? Ferris?
After a brief quarter-mile hike brought us to the river… and these four fishermen.
Three French fishermen and one big ol’ bruin sharing the wealth of the stream.
It occurs to me that it’s true: All you need in life you can learn in kindergarten. You don’t bother me, I won’t bother you.
I couldn’t help but wonder what the old boar thought about about the three new-comer’s fishing techniques. Did he just snort and disdainfully walk away, or did I just imagine that?
A few minutes later we were attracted by some splashing just across and down-river… This young Mom and her single cub were looking for breakfast.
Wait here, son, while Mom goes to look for our breakfast.
Mom is trying to chase some of the salmon into the shallows for easier picking. She probably learned this style of fishing from her mother.
The next day…
…we got dropped off in a small lake about two miles away from the river and began our trek across the tundra. Walking 0n tundra in the chest waders (they’re required to ford several streams and the river itself several times), carrying all your earthly photographic possessions on your back to get to the “extraction point” is not a “walk in the park”. It’s like walking across a seemingly endless soft mattress with rolls and tucks pulling at your boots trying to trip you, then slogging across the river. The hard work was rewarded, though, when we spied a big female just up the hill from our position. At first glance, it appeared that she was watching us approach. In actuality, she wasn’t seeming to be paying that much attention to us.
Then we see this little blonde head pop up next to momma.
A Watchful Eye
Mom keeps a watchful eye as she scans the tundra, danger is everywhere.
Mom sees another bear about 1 km away, slowly but steadily, coming their way. It’s a big male. Mom tenses up, her back stiffening, her eyes, ears, and nose at full attention. Sensing Mom’s unease, the little blonde cub automatically tenses up too, and ducks down behind a little hillock. Mom knows that a boar will readily kill and eat her cub. That will eventually throw her back into estrus allowing him to breed her, spreading his genes ever further among the populace. Genetics in action, producing the biggest, toughest, and most likely to survive bears.
No decisions to make for Mom, it was all very clear… She immediately began to lead her cub away to safety. (Good momma!)
We’ll be leaving now…
Turns out, we’re maybe a half-mile from the river. Gavriel “Eagle eyes” Jecan spots seagulls over the river. Good news. Where there are seagulls, there are shredded fish… and Bears!
In our excitement to be nearing the river and a potential bear to photograph, we are focused on the ridge ahead where we could finally peek over the crest and see if the seagulls and Gavriel were right…
I paused for a moment to catch my breath and turned to look for Winnie. There she was, about 25 meters behind me, walking by the same brush that I had just walked by. The brush with the big brown bear behind it. That brush.
I’m sure and certain that I looked hilarious with all my animated arm-waving, gesturing, and pointing.
And ms Winnie didn’t look as much amused… as perplexed. When she finally got within whispering range I yelled, in a whisper, mind you, Bear! Behind! Brush!
She got the message. And instead of doing anything stupid like running, she walked about ten more paces, turned, and set up her tripod for a few Up Close and Personal shots.
Well played, Winnie.
After very quietly easing up close to Winnie, I got to get a little more intimate with this good-looking, healthy, big blonde girl with my 70-200mm lens…
then… the PORTRAIT OF THE DAY!
Life is good.
This has been one of the best years for blueberries in the Kenai area. This big girl loves blueberries, they’re staining her snout! Berries and salmon, salmon, then back for some more blueberries. Ahhhh. It’s a good life.
Yea!, our little party has enjoyed an invigorating morning walk, several brisk (and successful) crossings of the river and tributary or two, and we’ve finally arrived at our destination for the day: the river chock-full of salmon and bear.